Three perfect December Days in London
December 8, 2005 8:19 AM   Subscribe

London at the much to do, so little time...

My in-laws will be in London for a few days this month and they are looking for some fun things to do. I've been through London for business but have never had the opportunity to spend leisure time there. A few things about them:

-They are from Chicago and they've traveled frequently to Sweden and France.
-They aren't afraid of cold weather :)
-They love the arts, music, architecture and fine food/wine.
-They are observers rather than active participants a lot of the time (they're not the type to be dancing on tables...that is MY family.)
-They are both former pastors and they have an interest in theological history but they aren't uptight or stuffy.
-My father-in-law is an avid sailor.
-They are sweetly romantic with each other.
-It's my FIL's birthday.

Any ideas from London MeFites?
posted by jeanmari to Travel & Transportation around London, England (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Kew Gardens
Natural History Museum / V&A / Science Museum

That should eat a couple of days.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2005

When I was there back in October, I thought the Big Bus Tour was completely worth the money. Also, the river cruise that you got with it was extremely entertaining.
posted by antifuse at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2005

Tate Modern, London Eye, Maritime Museum, Fifteen...
posted by brautigan at 8:38 AM on December 8, 2005

The Independent Newspaper runs a regular '50 Best...' which often covers things in London. Here is their '50 Best Places to Meet in London'. Alas I've had more difficulty finding other examples than I would have expected. Can anyone else point to a collection of these things?
posted by biffa at 8:49 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: Which days? There are some interesting music and theatre things on at The Barbican in December. The architecture there is.. interesting.. but nearby are various genuinly nice buildings including St Bartholemew's, which could potentially score points on both architecture and theological interest. There are some nice restuarants in that part of town too.

Pretty much all of that also applies for the South Bank, which boasts the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and the usual array of nice restuarants etc.
posted by Lotto at 8:55 AM on December 8, 2005

biffa: This looks like the kind of thing you mean.
posted by Lotto at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2005

Ah, I'm an idiot and didn't read the comment properly, sorry. Still might be useful for the original question though.
posted by Lotto at 8:57 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: If they love the arts, music, architecture then a trip to the Opera House to see some opera or ballet is a must.
posted by chill at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: I would recommend booking a table at Maggiore's in covent garden for birthday dinner. The room at the back is a stunning conservatory with twinkling fairy lights so the effect is understated but entirely romantic. The food is very good and the wine list a two tome leviathan.

Obligatory reviews here and here.
posted by patricio at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: Skating at Somerset House. Perhaps it's a bit too participatory, but combine it with a visit to the Courthauld Institute gallery.
posted by holgate at 9:14 AM on December 8, 2005

Response by poster: These are wonderful ideas so far...I'll mark best ones in a little while. Someone wrote me directly about visiting the Christmas Tree in Trefalgar Square or seeing a holiday related event at the Royal Albert Hall? Would you recommend these holiday-type things? Or take a pass?

(They don't dance on tables, but they are quite energetic walkers. sightseers, and they like to browse and shop...)
posted by jeanmari at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: If they're happy to walk, here's a one day:

- Start at Tower Hill tube station. Go out, look at the Tower of London (go in if you like). There's an ice-skating rink there as well, you can buy tickets on the day and it's usually quiet before 6pm.

- Walk across Tower Bridge (prettiest bridge in London), stop in the middle and look along the river in both directions. On the other side, turn right (west) and stay along the river.

- Walk past the big photos and City Hall (aka Ken's Testicle). When you get to London Bridge (nondescript bridge), if it's a Friday or a Saturday then head a little south and go to Borough Market. Otherwise keep walking along the river. If there's any confusion, just follow the signs for the Jubilee Walkway.

- You'll walk past the Golden Hinde, the reconstructed Globe Theatre and go past the old Clink jail.

- Soon you'll come to the Tate Modern
(free, except for special exhibits).

- Walk across the Millennium Bridge and go to St Paul's Cathedral.

That's probably enough for one day, but if you want more, I can do the Tate Modern to Westminister Cathedral part of the walk too.

For the food, I can strongly suggest not leaving it to chance. While London has some absolutely superb places, if you don't know them and just hope for the best, you'll be very disappointed. If you can give an idea for food budget, I'll be happy to give you some options.
posted by quiet at 9:41 AM on December 8, 2005

Response by poster: This is a splurge of a weekend for them. Financially, they are quite comfortable (and they are flying on airline miles, they are both working professionals) so I don't think that they will be terribly budget conscious. Of course, a $300-400 US meal would be a bit much :) But, who knows? They do love to experience new things and they recognize and appreciate loveliness, quality and craftsmanship.

I hit the in-law jackpot, actually. They are delightful. Can you tell I really like them?
posted by jeanmari at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: Follow Quiet's suggestions. But make it on a Friday or Saturday, since they love food/wine. Devote a few hours to Borough Market. Also consider Southwark Cathedral (next to Borough Market/London Bridge).
They may also want to check out an advent/Christmas Carol service somewhere like St. Paul's or Southwark cathedral. Many churches have them, some are candlelit, the music will be lovely.
posted by cushie at 10:31 AM on December 8, 2005

Cushie's on to a winner. The candlelit concerts in St Martin's in the Fields (on Trafalgar Square) are supposed to be very good. Look under "Concerts" and "Special Events". The cafe in the crypt is a good place to stop for lunch if you're in the area.

Personally, the Albert Hall specials at this time of year are a bit too much CHRISTMAS! all at once, but they're good if you like that sort of thing.

They might also enjoy a wander along Upper St from Angel tube in Islington. It's a bit grimy but has good, interesting shops (especially design/home ones) and Camden Passage has lovely (read: expensive) antiques. There are lots of good places to eat and drink there too.
posted by patricio at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2005

Just to say skating at Somerset House is grand but its wise to book in's very popular you know!
posted by anglophiliated at 3:46 PM on December 8, 2005

The three things they should buy IMMEDIATELY on landing in London are:
* A copy of the A-Z Street Map
* That week's issue of Time Out events guide
* Harden's London Restaurants

They can probably take it from there on their own.
posted by Hogshead at 7:16 PM on December 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

On the food side, many of the fantastic London restaurants have lunchtime prix fix menus that are very reasonable.

Not my thing, but a friend loves St John for the unusual meat parts.

Pied a Terre
is fantastic

J Sheekey for fish near Leicester Square.

Good cheese is very hard to come by in the US because of the FDA's aversion to raw milk. I love La Fromagerie ; they have superb cheeses, but the lunch buffet is great too, and it's a good opportunity to walk around Marylebone Village

For tea, Browns Hotel is the best (yes, better than the Ritz or the Savoy) and it opens again in a few days having been closed for ages. There is a dresscode, but well worth the experience.
posted by quiet at 4:16 AM on December 9, 2005

Quiet and Cushie give excellent advice. The South Bank is my favorite part of this city--and considering how many beautiful spots London has, that's saying a great deal. Unfortunately, there won't be any productions going on at the Globe Theatre this time of year, but it's well worth taking the tour if you like Shakespeare--the theatre is a very authentic replica of the original Globe, and the tour really helps understand the environment in which the plays would have originally been performed.

Speaking of which, among London's many virtues is that (along with New York) it's one of the two greatest theatre cities in the English speaking world. And although London is very expensive in most things, ticket prices are actually relatively affordable. They could try getting halfpriced day-of-performance tickets from the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square--check out this listing of what's on sale. Be warned that there are a lot of ticket resellers around Leicester Square advertising "Half-price tickets" and even "official half-price tickets." I would look first at the actual TKTS booth--I've always had good luck with them. I've never tried any of the other resellers.

By the way, although Time Out has a very thorough listing, and interesting and thoughtful reviews, I often disagree with their conclusions. They might also want to pick up another newspaper just to get a second opinion on a given play.

Dining in London can be a little disappointing; although there are plenty of good restaurants, the exchange rate means that, at pretty much any given price range, you can get a better meal for your money in most major US cities. THere are some exceptions.

For a really cheap meal on the go, Pret-A-Manger, Eat, and Marks & Spencer Simply Food offer good quality premade sandwiches.

A slight step up is fish-and-chips. My favorite fish-and-chips in London is North Sea, which is between King's Cross-St Pancras and Russell Square tube stations.

If they want a warm (in every sense of the word), cheerful, mid-range sit-down restaurant while they are on the South Bank, they might want to visit one of the several branches of Tas Restaurant. (There's one right across from the Globe, in fact.) They serve very high quality Turkish food at very fair prices.

And if they want a little more of a splurge, there's Roussillon, a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers a good fixed-price menu, especially during weekday lunches when it's £35 for three courses including wine and coffee.

Finally... Anytime there's an AskMe question on London, I always recommend the same book, and this time is no exception. The best guidebook I've ever seen to London is Londonwalks, which offers some very detailed self-guided walking tours of several parts of the city. However, the book has been out of print for many years, and is therefore useless on things like phone numbers, opening hours, and so forth. They'll definitely want a more recent (and more conventional) guidebook to supplement Londonwalks, but if they can order a copy of it in time to arrive before they leave, I'd definitely recommend doing some of the walks in the book, especially the one that includes Covent Garden.
posted by yankeefog at 6:36 AM on December 9, 2005

Oh, and I don't know about the Royal Albert Hall, but as for the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square--the tree isn't exactly the kind of thing you should shape your whole trip around seeing... but given that they will almost certainly be within a few minutes walk of Trafalgar Square at some point in their trip, it's well worth making a stop there.
posted by yankeefog at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2005

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